Newcastle United: How(e) Did They Get Here?
Apart from a roaring 5-1 win against Aston Villa, Newcastle United’s beginning to the 2023/24 season has been rife with problems. Why?
In 2021, Newcastle United were sold by Mike Ashley to the Public Investment Fund, RB Sports And Media, and PCP Capital Partners.
Eddie Howe, former Bournemouth manager who had been out of work for a year following their relegation, was brought in and Newcastle became the first team in Premier League history to survive after failing to win any of their first eleven matches.
In the next season, Newcastle began a surprising rise, going from a team that was eternally facing the prospect of relegation to a team challenging for Champions League places.
Following a 0-0 draw at home against Leicester City, a team who themselves were fighting relegation and later failed to stay up, Newcastle were in the Champions League for the first time in twenty years.
However, that was the 2022/23 season, and Newcastle have not had a single point from any of their last three matches this season and have been struggling for form.
However, their last three matches have been against Manchester City away (where they walked away with relatively unscathed egos from a 1-0 loss), Liverpool at home (where a shocking comeback and Newcastle crumbling allowed Liverpool to take a win), and Brighton and Hove Albion (where they seemed a ghost of the team they have been and were smashed by an Evan Ferguson hat-trick).
The start of a Premier League season isn’t easy for any team. The Athletic, after ranking Premier League beginnings, have claimed that Newcastle have had the hardest opening. Naturally, amongst the Newcastle fanbase, there is a half-joking idea of it being a conspiracy against the “new kids on the block”.
This hasn’t been helped by the Carabao Cup draw (Man City in the third round) and the Champions League draw (the fated “group of death” of Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, and Newcastle). If you wanted to make a conspiracy theory out of this, you easily could. It is most likely just a case of awful luck.
On the other hand, football is not just a game of luck. Luck matters, but resources and skill is undeniably more valuable. Newcastle showed last season that they had the ability, merit and investment to be a top 4 club, finishing above Tottenham Hotspur (and thrashing them in a 6-2 victory), Chelsea, and their bogey club, Liverpool.
However, this season, Newcastle have been struggling for impact. A 5-1 win against Aston Villa, where, in April, Newcastle lost 3-0 in what’s been seen as one of their worst performances of the 22/23 season, showed that they still had the ability to be competitive. Former Newcastle and England defender Stuart Pearce had backed them to win the Premier League, and even after their dip in form has still shown conviction in this.
Since a 1-0 loss against Manchester City, the team itself seem to have lost a lot of confidence. Eddie Howe has made several confusing decisions – especially in the Newcastle vs Liverpool match which included bringing Anthony Gordon off (who had scored the only Newcastle goal and held the lead from early in the first half) for Harvey Barnes and Sandro Tonali for Sean Longstaff.
There has also been a notable lack of minutes for Callum Wilson, who was Newcastle’s top goal scorer last season and has been featured in Gareth Southgate’s most recent England squad. Whenever he comes on, it seems like the entire teams focus completely changes, as shown by him being named as the only positive of Newcastle’s performance against Brighton.
Tactical errors and injury problems
Eddie Howe has often struggled to make changes during a match, as it often seems that Newcastle has a run of poor performances before changes come in and they slowly get back on form. What is desperately needed is a change in the way Newcastle play, as it seems that most other teams have begun to figure this out.
There have also been questions on fitness. Sven Botman, who has become a key part of Newcastle’s defence, was injured during the Liverpool match. He should be expected back in the squad after the international break.
Similarly, Joelinton picked up an injury against Manchester City, and made no impact against Brighton and Hove Albion and seems to be unfit at the current moment. However, he does seem likely to play for Brazil against Bolivia on Saturday, which could either be a sign that his fitness is improving or could be a worry in case his injury gets worse.
Joe Willock will also most likely be out of contention until a few matches after the international break, due to a hamstring problem.
Nick Pope has also seemed less certain in goal, due to an out of character mistake that directly led to Brighton’s first goal, being omitted from the latest England squad, and an injury late in last season that required surgery on his hand have all contributed to below par performance thus far.
Many players in the Newcastle lineup will be travelling for international duty, which may serve as a sign of how these players will be throughout this season.
Miguel Almiron will be with Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier, with Joelinton and Bruno Guimarães joining the Brazilian team. Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier will be with the England team in a Euros qualifier, as will Alexander Isak for Sweden, Sandro Tonali for Italy, Fabian Schar for Switzerland and Martin Dubravka with Slovakia.
Altogether, it seems like Newcastle’s recent poor form is both bad luck and a sign of problems that may come up later on.
Newcastle have clearly had the hardest start to the Premier League season, which seems like it may be getting to the players at the moment. Injuries are also not helping, and neither is Howe’s struggles to change the way the team are playing.
On the other hand, it is only the very beginning of the season. Newcastle can still take the run of fairly simple games in front of them and get back on track for their goal of top 6 next season. There is no major need to panic just yet.